Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dancing Lessons From God, Part 9

The next day I got to my office with my customary large regular coffee from Dunkin Donuts, sat down at my desk, pulled out a sheet of paper and put my mind to work. I decided to make a list of everything and anything that I wanted to do. I put myself in the mindset that I was starting from scratch and had nothing to lose so anything goes. My final list consisted of two things:

1. Travel, especially to Europe.

2. Go back to school for something that I enjoy and can actually make a career at.

As I looked at the list I thought to myself “man, imagine if I could do something that would allow me to do both, like going to college in Europe”. But since I couldn’t even afford to go back to school in the US doing so overseas was obviously out of the question. Suddenly the idea of enlisting in the Air Force occurred to me again. It had been a few years since I tried the first time so maybe they had changed the “no prior service” policy. Besides, I had finished my enlistment in the Army Reserves almost two years earlier so I wasn’t even in anymore. I excitedly picked up the phone and dialed the recruiter. My joy was nipped in the bud pretty quick as they still weren’t taking anyone who had served in any other branch of the military. I considered the army but quickly dismissed it. That may sound crazy to people who have been in the army because at the time the US had a lot of bases overseas in Europe and I was sure that I could get a slot there. However, there were several other factors that prevented me from seriously considering the army. First of all, if I was going to quit my job and join the military it would be for two reasons: to see the world (or at least Europe) and be able to get my Masters Degree while on active duty. I knew that most bases had an education center where I could probably finish my degree cheaply, if not free. The problem was that my MOS (job skill) was a 31K which was a communications job. I had met several people in my reserve unit who had been on active duty in Europe with my MOS and they all complained that they were never able to take any college courses because they spent so much time in the field on exercises and whatnot. That was a big turnoff for me because the thing I hated most about the reserves was going to the field for our 2 week annual training exercises. If I was miserable doing two weeks a year how could I even consider going active duty where I would no doubt have to spend a lot more time than that in the field? Not only that but if I’m in the field so much that I’m not able to finish my Masters Degree then when I finished my four years I would be in worse shape career wise than when I enlisted. So the Army was out. I would have to come up with something else.

Another week or so went by and I still had nothing. The army kept creeping back into my mind as possibly my only option. I started thinking that maybe if I were able to change my MOS to something computer related it might work. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that anyone with a lot of computer skills had a bright future so maybe that was my way out. I might spend a lot of time in the field but if I’m learning a skill like computers, it would not be wasted time. Eventually I started considering the army as a possible option. Not a very attractive option to be sure but I was getting desperate. The other thing I had to consider was that I didn’t even know if I was young enough to enlist. Now that might sound funny since I was 26 at the time but I felt like the oldest 26 year old in the world. So about a week after I’d been denied by the Air Force, I placed a call to the local US Army recruiting office. At this point I still hadn’t decided that it was something I wanted to do, I just wanted to get some questions answered so I could make an informed decision one way or the other.

“US Army recruiting office, Nashua, New Hampshire”

“Hi, I’m just hoping you can answer two questions for me. First question is, what is the age limit for prior service enlisting active?”


“OK good, second question…I was in the reserves for 7 years and have been out for almost two. If I reenlisted active duty, would I be able to change my MOS?”


“OK, thanks, that’s all I need to know.”

Now I‘d dealt with the recruiters before from my time in the reserves so I knew how they worked. I was familiar with their little tricks and games that they can sometimes play on unsuspecting possible recruits. I was determined not to be one of those na├»ve recruits who believe everything that the recruiter tells them. I knew that the recruiter can promise you all kind of stuff but it’s not until you get to the Military Entrance Processing Station – MEPS – that you actually find out what’s true and what’s not. So I knew that I had to talk to the recruiter initially to get my questions answered but I would have to get to the MEPS in Boston before I could really make any decisions. I thought about it and if I could truly change my MOS, this might work. I decided to go through the recruiting office in Manchester rather than Nashua because there was much less chance that I would run into anyone that I knew. The recruiter that I talked to was a young E6 who was actually a Manchester native. He told me that the army had a program called “Hometown Recruiter” where you could volunteer to be recruiter and they would send you to your hometown to do it. I didn’t let on how desperate I was to get out and that army seemed to be my only option as I wanted to maintain the upper hand. I wanted to make sure he knew that while I was considering enlisting, I still had a good job and didn’t necessarily need to enlist so he was going to have to offer me a really sweet deal to get my name on the dotted line. In fact this was actually not too far from the truth. I was still very hesitant about joining the army. It’s not something that most twenty-six year old college graduates do, for good reason. I asked about Officer Candidate School and was told that it’s easier to enlist and apply while on active duty – this I knew to be true from people who had done it – so I kept that in the back of my mind. After a couple of visits over the next week or so it was time to go down to the MEPS in Boston. I called in sick that day, the recruiter put me on a bus and away I went. I went through the battery of tests and application forms. As I looked at the kids around me, most of them seeming so young, desperate and impressionable, I actually started feeling better about my situation. Some of them were from really bad backgrounds and neighborhoods. This was probably their only chance in life. Finally sometime in the afternoon I was called to go to the guidance counselor office where the “negotiations” would take place.

(Click HERE for Part X)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dancing Lessons From God, Part 8

The feeling of doing something drastic actually had started several weeks earlier when I went to a see a movie called “Good Will Hunting”. I originally went to see it because it took place in Boston. Little did I know that it would contain a scene which, without sounding overdramatic, would change how I looked at my life. In the film, Matt Damon plays a young genius named Will who was born in Boston. He had never experienced life but was arrogant because he was an expert on just about any subject you could think of. Robin Williams plays his psychiatrist and Williams’ character, Sean, is the exact opposite of Will. He’s not the smartest person but he has more life experience than just about anybody in the world. He’s a Viet Nam vet, whose wife had died of cancer and who had traveled the world. When Will arrogantly puts him down and demeans him, he first lashes out at him. However, after considering the situation he asks Will to meet him and lays the following speech on him:

Sean: You're just a kid, you don't have the faintest idea what you're talkin' about.
Will: Why thank you.
Sean: It's all right. You've never been out of Boston.
Will: Nope.
Sean: So if I asked you about art, you'd probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life's work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I'll bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You've never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that. If I ask you about women, you'd probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can't tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You're a tough kid. And I'd ask you about war, you'd probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, "once more unto the breach dear friends." But you've never been near one. You've never held your best friend's head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I'd ask you about love, you'd probably quote me a sonnet. But you've never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn't know what it's like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn't know about sleeping sitting up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes, that the terms "visiting hours" don't apply to you. You don't know about real loss, 'cause it only occurs when you've loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you've ever dared to love anybody that much. And look at you... I don't see an intelligent, confident man... I see a cocky, scared shitless kid.

That scene spoke to me so loudly that it was like a smack upside the head. It instantly dawned on me that I was Will. Minus the whole genius thing of course, but Will nonetheless. I thought I was hot shit because I had gone through four years of college and could hold a conversation on several different subjects, whether it was history, art, science, whatever. I seldom lost at trivial pursuit and usually answered most of the questions on Jeopardy! correctly. But, like Will, whatever knowledge I had was strictly from books. I had experienced nothing. I had studied Michelangelo in college but so what? I’d never seen the Sistine Chapel either. I was just like Will and I didn’t like it. I wanted to be like Sean. This realization had been festering inside me and it really hit home that night.

(Click HERE for Part IX)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pictures From Italy

Taking time out from the book long enough to post some pics from our trip to Italia last week. As always, click the image to enlarge..

Of course Giampietro and Agnese were unbelievably excited to spend some time with the X Man. Giampi was one of the special Italian mountain soldiers in his youth called the "Alpini". They do special get-togethers throughout the year, which explains the hat he's wearing:

And we wasted no time in diving into the Italian food. As usual I ate as much pizza as I could handle. The one below might be my new favorite: rucola, ricotta cheese and cherry tomatoes. Hmm, what country's flag does that pizza resemble?

I renewed my Italian fishing license while we were there and enjoyed some time fly fishing on the Brenta River while the X Man clowned around:

The X Man is normally a fussy eater but when we go to Italia he eats Giampi and Agnese's pasta like it's going out of style. He wasn't in the door 5 minutes before he asked them to make him some:

We spent a day in Venice, our home away from home when we lived there. I'd almost forgotten how much I love that city:

No trip to Italia is complete without the panini! I think the X Man was getting panini'd out by then:

Alas, it was time to say our goodbyes and hit the road. Any time spent with Giampi and Agnese is priceless, they are such wonderful people:

We stopped at the Emisfero to stock up on vino, olives and Grana Padano before we left. I ran in to pick it up but ended up being in there so long that the X Man got impatient and started reading my magazine. I laughed out loud when I saw this picture:

Our car full of Italian goodies, it was time to hit the Autostrada through the Alps. I never get tired of the drive, it's so beautiful:

We stopped in a little town in Austria called Heiterwang, which makes a good half way point to break up the drive.

And then, just like that, our Italian vacation was over. Back to work and the daily grind. *SIGH*

Friday, April 25, 2008

Dancing Lessons From God, Part 7

In between it all there was one bright spot and it was my brother Eric. Eric was a year older than me and had joined the Navy after high school. He had been on the USS Missouri during the Persian Gulf War and had been able to see a lot of the world during his time in the service. I was in college at the time and he used to send postcards from places like Thailand and Australia and while I was a bit envious of him, I just took it for granted that my future was to graduate, get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, basically to live “the American Dream”. The idea of traveling never entered into my mind. After the Navy Eric lived a vagabond life, working on boats and living in places like Seattle, Baltimore and New Orleans. He’d even owned a houseboat that he lived on in Fells Point in Baltimore which I always thought was cool. He had also backpacked around Europe and had some great stories. After my cross country trip to Las Vegas and due to my ever increasing desire to escape Nashua, his stories of his travels became more appealing to me. Occasionally the idea of following his lead popped into my head but it usually popped back out just as suddenly. I wasn’t 18 years old and just out of high school anymore so joining the military wasn’t really an option. And I knew nothing about boats anyway. But sometime in 1997 Eric came home to visit and asked if I wanted to meet him in Montreal to hang out there and in Quebec City, then drive back to Nashua with him. I jumped at the chance and my friend Dave and I made the 5 hour drive north where we hooked up with Eric and his friend Mike. Montreal and Quebec are two really beautiful cities and the nightlife in Montreal is especially fantastic. We ended up making another trip to Montreal that year and those trips were a godsend for me. Sitting there in Hurley’s Irish Pub downing pints of Guinness with a bunch of Canadians and Irishmen, belting out football (soccer) songs at 3 am, it felt like I had finally escaped Nashua and was experiencing life for the first time since my trip to Las Vegas, if only for just a few days. I became jealous of Eric and his seemingly carefree life on those trips because while I would be going back to my mundane life, he would be driving around the country on his way back to New Orleans where nothing is ever dull. This thought never escaped me as I would sit in the Monday morning sales meetings dreading the thought of what new hell awaited me that week.

Sometime around the beginning of 1998 came the biggest blow, the one that would eventually send me over the edge. As I mentioned earlier, Pressline had stagnated and my sales commissions had plummeted. I didn’t have a lot of bills but I was starting to struggle a bit financially. It dawned on me that I might need to take on a second job until either my Pressline commissions started rebounding or I was able to find something else. Of course the only time I had was at night and there wasn’t much I was qualified for so I ended up taking the only thing I could find and that was as a cleaner for three hours a night at a nearby corporation. That’s right, on top of everything else, I was now moonlighting as a janitor to make ends meet. Every day I’d get out of work, head over to my second job, take off my tie and slacks and put on my grubby jeans and sweatshirt and spend three hours mopping floors, vacuuming, and cleaning up people’s messes. I was never afraid to do work of this sort and wasn’t afraid of getting dirty or what have you. However, I was miserable because I felt that after putting in my dues with college and the Army Reserve, I should have been long past this. How the hell did I end up in this position? I placated my misery by continually telling myself that I was not the only person who was forced to work two jobs to get by and that there was nothing wrong with it. But the final straw came one night as I was vacuuming one of the offices and noticed something familiar hanging in one of the cubicles. Staring me right in the face was a full page Pressline ad that the guy working there had cut out of the paper and hung up at his desk. I thought to myself “I wonder if this guy knows that the guy who runs that system is the same guy who comes in every night and cleans up after him after he goes home”. That was it. I had to do something. I went home that night and went to bed but couldn’t sleep because my mind was just racing, trying to come up with something, anything, that would get me out of my situation. I’d been dying inside for some time but suddenly my soul was screaming that enough was enough. I was going to do something. I just didn’t know what.

(Click HERE for Part VIII)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dancing Lessons From God, Part 6

Pressline was a great system but in retrospect it was doomed from the start. It went online on February 1, 1996 which was right around the time that more and more people were being exposed to Al Gore’s fantastic invention. Yes, I’m talking about the internet. As I mentioned, Pressline enjoyed a very successful first year but as more people in the Nashua area went online at home the call counts started dropping. Once the monthly call counts starting dropping, the advertising revenue started dropping as well. I started having to spend more and more time on the sales end but despite my efforts, more and more businesses decided to put their dollars into the internet. The Telegraph had launched its own website during 1997 which didn’t help matters. Looking back I should have seen the writing on the wall earlier but nobody really knew how tremendously widespread the internet would become at the time. So I plugged away despite declining revenues and an increasingly frustrated boss who I’m sure was getting pressure from his boss to get things turned around. It didn’t take long for me to realize that my job was in serious jeopardy. But what could I do? As usual, I had very little prospects to fall back on if and when it finally crashed. I panicked a bit and started looking for other jobs just in case. I knew that eventually the internet was going to kill Pressline and so I figured maybe I could get out before that happened. But as usual, the only jobs that I was qualified for were sales jobs and after getting burned twice, I was reluctant to seek a third torching.

Things got progressively worse. I’m embarrassed to admit it now but at some point I basically gave up on Pressline. I got so disenchanted with making sales calls – which 99% of the time ended in rejection – that I started spending much of my time in my office on the internet scouring job sites and want ads from around the country. This only made me more depressed as it made me realize how unqualified I was for so many things. The dearth of new advertising dollars meant my commissions were suffering as I skated by on the backs of my core clients. The hits kept on coming as one day my roommate came home and announced that he was going back to school and would be moving out at the end of the month, leaving me stuck. Unable to find another roommate on such short notice, I was forced to do the unthinkable: move back in with my mother. Shudder.

So here was my life. I was 26 years old, a college graduate, working at a job that I was miserable at and that had no future, living at home with my mother. What passed as the social aspect of my life was in the toilet as well. Almost all of my friends had gotten married and some were already having kids by this time. So my single status often wasn’t compatible with their newfound domesticity. Plus, my only single friend worked night shift at his job so I seldom ever saw him. Although I wasn’t always miserable or depressed, I was alone much of the time. I would spend the weekends driving up to the mountains to go fly fishing or hiking. When the weather got cold I’d spend entire weekends in Barnes and Noble slamming cappuccinos and scouring the out of town newspapers for anything that would get me out of Nashua. The highlight of my week was Thursday nights when I’d go over to my best friend Mike’s house and watch Seinfeld with him and his wife. This was my life.

(Click HERE for Part VII)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dancing Lessons From God, Part 5.

Being back in Nashua suddenly became like a prison. I had gone back to my mundane assembly job at my mother’s company but I just could not focus on anything. All I thought about was the three weeks I spent on the road and experiencing what life was like elsewhere in the country. My relationship with my girlfriend at the time suffered terribly as I was never happy and she thought it was because of her (which was not the case at all). One day it dawned on me that the way out could be the Air Force, just as Randy had done. I called a recruiter and told him I was interested in joining. He asked me several questions such as my age, marital status, did I have a college degree, then told me that I was a perfect candidate and asked me to come down and see him. I told him that I was currently in the Army Reserves and he sighed as he replied that he couldn’t take me after all because they were not allowed to enlist people from other services. Needless to say, I was absolutely crushed. My only hope of getting out and doing something meaningful had just vanished. Going active duty army was not even an option because my experience in the Reserves had made me realize that I didn’t really like the army. I had a lot of friends in my unit who had once been active duty and hated it which really soured me to the idea so I never even considered it. After that I spent a lot of time at the local Barnes and Noble scouring the newspapers from around the country looking for something – anything – that I might be qualified for. The only good prospects I had were all sales related and I didn’t want to go down that route again. Things were looking bleak when one day I opened the local newspaper, the Nashua Telegraph, and noticed an interesting ad in the classifieds. It seems the paper was buying a new voice information system and was looking for a motivated individual to run it, promote it, and basically handle every aspect of it. The qualifications they listed matched my resume so I half-heartedly applied and didn’t think much of it until they called me for an interview. The interview went well but I wasn’t really thrilled about it until the sales manager told me that they would start me off at $31,000 a year. Now, that may not seem like a lot of money but to someone who had spent his share of time toiling away at temp jobs, menial assembly work and who had even sold Kirby vacuum cleaners for a couple weeks, it was a small fortune. Suddenly my attitude changed and staying in Nashua didn’t seem so bad after all. I convinced myself that I would be happy because I finally had landed a job that would pay me enough to make a good living and everything that came with it.

I loved the job right away. It involved sales but that was only a part of it. First they sent me down to Pottsville, Pennsylvania for training on how to run and promote the system. When I got back I hit the ground running. The system was fascinating at the time. It was basically a computerized phone system that received satellite feeds from various media services. Then anybody in the local area could call free and get information by pressing a four digit code. For example if you wanted the baseball score from last night’s game you would call the number and enter the four digit code for the baseball scores and you would receive them over the phone. We also had stock market updates, soap opera updates, weather updates, pretty much anything you could imagine. The newspaper would run a full or half page ad every day with a listing of what was available. Part of my job was to sell ads on the system and I received a commission on what I sold. We called the system Pressline and it was an instant hit, averaging over 30,000 calls a month my first year. Advertising revenue was steadily climbing as I invented new and creative ways for local and national businesses to spend money on Pressline. I loved the fact that, although I answered to the sales manager, I had a great degree of freedom at the job as I’ve always worked best without someone looking over my shoulder every two minutes. I also loved putting on my tie every morning and going to work in my big office and doing business lunches and all that stuff that I thought I had left behind. I did a lot of public relations projects with local charities, businesses and schools. It was also rewarding when someone would ask me what I do for a living and I would tell them I run Pressline and their eyes would get big as they told me how much they love it and call it all the time. While I didn’t feel important per se, I certainly did feel like I was starting to make my mark – such as it was – on the community.

(Click HERE for Part VI)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Dancing Lessons From God, Part 4

One of my best friends from high school was Randy Pouliot. Randy had spent a semester at University of Lowell in Massachusetts after graduation but had run out of money and had to drop out. He was going nowhere, working at a pizza place when he decided to join the Air Force. At the time he was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas and called me out of the blue one day to tell me that he would be finishing up a temporary duty stint in Italy soon and he and his wife Kelly were planning on driving from Nashua to Las Vegas when he got back, and was wondering if I wanted to go with them. I had no job and no commitments so I eagerly agreed and in the fall of 1995 we took off for what would be the greatest road trip of my life, one that would also plant the seeds for my impending wanderlust. We went south from Boston on I95 and drove down to Manassas, Virginia where we stayed overnight at a small military installation then the next morning set out across Virginia towards Tennessee. I was struck by how beautiful the area was. Randy had arranged for us to stay the weekend at the home of a fellow Air Force colleague whose family lived on a farm outside of Knoxville and it was in Knoxville, at a Waffle House, that I was introduced to how seriously people in the south take their college football. It was a Saturday and the University of Tennessee had a game that evening, which we all planned to attend. We were stopped at the Waffle House for breakfast before we met Randy’s friend Shaun and for some reason the waitress was being extremely rude to us. This went against everything I’d always heard about southern hospitality so I asked her if there was a problem. She responded by yelling to everyone in the restaurant “Hey y’all, we got us a Bulldog fan over here!”, at which point the entire wait staff and the cook came over to out table looking very angry. It suddenly dawned on me that I was wearing a British soccer shirt of Manchester United whose colors are black and red. And UT’s opponent that night was the University of Georgia, whose colors are…yep, black and red. Now, I’ve been a huge Notre Dame fan my whole life but that probably didn’t matter to these people. I tried desperately to make them realize that this was not a Georgia shirt, I even showed them the British flag on the shirt to no avail. Finally I said “Look, I’m not even from the south, I’m from New England!” to which the cook, an older gentleman with greasy hair, an even greasier apron, and a cigarette dangling between his lips, replied in a thick southern drawl, “New Anglin huh? He prob’ly a god-dam Notre Dame fan…”. At this point I got up, went out to the car and changed into a plain white t-shirt. When we met up with Shaun an hour later he just laughed and said “Damn Rik, are you trying to get killed?” The rest of the weekend was very enjoyable. We went to Knoxville that night for the game which turned out to be a thriller as Tennessee, led by sophomore phenomenon Peyton Manning, defeated Georgia right at the end of the game.

From there we drove to Nashville and checked out the Grand Ole Opry then continued on to Memphis where we took in Graceland. I wasn’t too impressed by Arkansas which had some of the rudest and slowest people I’d ever encountered but Oklahoma was a bit better. Through the Texas panhandle where I enjoyed my first visit to a Hooters restaurant, then straight through New Mexico and Arizona until we hit the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead as the sun was just coming up which was a sight to behold. Finally, Las Vegas. I stayed with Randy and his family for about two and a half weeks. He showed me all around Las Vegas, we went to all the casinos, I gambled a little, saw some shows, the usual stuff.

Eventually it was time to fly back home but I would return a changed man. The trip across country and the subsequent couple weeks in Las Vegas had made me realize for the first time that there was a whole world outside of Nashua. And I liked it. I wanted more of it.

(Click HERE for Part V)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Abbiamo rinviato!

We just got back from bella Italia a few hours ago and I gotta tell you, it might have been the best vacation we've ever taken. I'll try to get the pics posted this week but until then here's my favorite one, taken in Austria on the way back home yesterday:

Friday, April 11, 2008

Short break...

We're leaving this afternoon for Italia, sort of our last foray to the motherland before the baby comes. We'll be there through next week so there might not be any blog entries until then as I don't know if I will have wireless down there...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dancing Lessons From God, Part 3

My four years of college were a microcosm of how my life has sometimes gone. I had no plan, no thought to what I was supposed to be working towards. I didn’t go to college because I had a particular career in mind that I wanted to prepare for. I went to college because I didn’t know what else to do and my father had always drilled into my head that I was not going to be successful in life if I did not go to college. What he failed to tell me was that simply going to college does not make one successful. You have to have a plan, a goal, something to spend your four years working towards. I had nothing of the sort and as it turned out, I spent my four years so wrapped up in how I was going to pay my tuition and my bills that I didn’t even declare a major until my junior year. And when my last year came around I had no more idea of what I was going to do after college than I did when I first started. It was not a comforting thought I can assure you. My four years of college were not completely wasted, I had learned a lot of cool stuff, met a lot of nice people from different parts of the country and had been exposed to an unbelievable amount of culture that I would have missed out on had I never gone. However, the one thing I didn’t leave with was any kind of idea about how to put any of it to use in the real world. I had majored in Mass Communications with a specialization in television and media but since I didn’t plan on moving to Los Angeles or New York, there was little chance I would actually work in that field. I graduated in May of 1993 and by autumn I still had absolutely no idea about what I wanted to do. My best friend Mike had gotten a great entry level job at a promising new company out near the seacoast and his grandparents had offered him the use of their beach house since it was too far to commute. He asked my friend Scott and I if we were interested in moving in with him there and I figured what the hell, I can look for a job there as easily as I could anywhere. I worked a bunch of temp jobs to keep food on the table which was a horrible way of life that I wouldn’t wish on anybody. The only thing that got me through was to keep convincing myself that it was only temporary until I could land a good permanent position somewhere doing…well, doing something. I figured that with my Mass Communications degree maybe the best thing to do was get into advertising or sales so I started applying for every opening I could find but nobody would hire me because I had no experience. I eventually talked the sales manager at one of the bigger local radio stations into taking me on as an unpaid intern so I could gain some experience. I worked my ass off for them, researching statistics and graphics, putting together advertising proposals and such. After several months one of the salespeople quit and they were so happy with my work ethic - imagine that! - that they hired me to take her place. I was so excited, I felt like I finally found something that I could excel at and make a successful career out of. As it turned out, my career in sales and advertising was just like everything else in my life; I didn’t do it because I enjoyed it or was really interested in it, I did it because I felt it was the best or smart thing to do. As I would figure out years later, this is the absolute wrong reason to do anything. I never thought about everything that the job would entail, I only thought about the fact that I finally was where I was supposed to be, at a job where I wore a suit and tie every day, drove a nice car, had my own business cards, took clients out for “business lunches”, all the stuff that made me feel successful. Not surprisingly, I lasted less than a year before I realized that it wasn’t for me, despite some decent success at it.

So what next? I thought about what I wanted to do, what interested me but not much occurred to me. What did occur to me was that the happiest times of my life were spent with the high school youth group of the church that I grew up in. People used to say that I would make a great youth minister someday and so I thought maybe that was my calling. The only problem was that I would need to go back to school which I couldn’t afford, so I decided to move back to Nashua and spend a year working to save up enough money to go back to school. I got a mundane job at my mother’s company doing general assembly work but after about six months it was clear that a career as a youth minister was not to be my calling. Not only had I not saved a penny to go back to school, but I quickly realized that although I have always been a religious person, my lifestyle was nowhere near as pious as such a career would demand. So I found myself once again with no career prospects, no direction, no clue whatsoever what to do with my life.

Enter Vegas.

(Click HERE for Part IV)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Dancing Lessons from God, Part 2

I was born in Nashua, New Hampshire, the youngest of three children. I grew up in one of those sleepy little bedroom towns you always hear about. It was called Litchfield, NH; it’s a suburb of both Nashua and Manchester, New Hampshire’s two largest cities. Nashua is a very modern city of about 80,000 people, most of whom work in the greater Boston area. Boston is about 50 miles south but Nashua is very attractive to a lot of people who work there for several reasons. Firstly, it’s a lot cheaper than Boston. Property taxes are lower. Schools are better. There’s a lot less crime. There’s a lot less traffic. It’s much quieter. New Hampshire has no sales tax so Nashua, being right on the Massachusetts border north of Boston, is a shopping haven for people from below the border. The southern part of Nashua is crammed full of shopping malls and car dealerships. For people who work in the greater Boston area, Nashua and its surrounding towns are perfect because they can work in Boston and enjoy all its advantages yet live in New Hampshire to avoid all of the normal disadvantages of a big city. In fact, it’s this favorable juxtaposition that led Money magazine to twice name Nashua as the number one city in the entire United States to live in, first in 1987 then again in 1997. My parents divorced when I was 3 or 4 years old and my mother received custody of us three kids. We lived in Litchfield while my father was one of the many people described above who worked in the Boston area yet lived in Nashua. My mother had no college degree or formal job training so she did the only thing she knew how to do for a living and ran a daycare out of our home. It didn’t pay very well and even with the child support she received from my father it seemed like she was always struggling financially. My father on the other hand had a pretty good paying job and dabbled in real estate on the side which allowed him to live in a nice condo and take yearly trips to the Caribbean to go scuba diving. We weren’t poor but I certainly never had anything handed to me. I learned from an early age that nothing is ever given to you easily, you usually have to make some kind of sacrifice for things that you really want.

As for me, I was born in 1971 which means that I was a bona fide child of the eighties. I’m old enough to remember a lot of things that happened in the seventies but my formative years all took place during the Ronald Reagan years. I was a below average student, partly because I never considered myself that smart and partly because I didn’t have a great work ethic. The only thing I truly enjoyed doing were sports. My sport was soccer. I grew up watching and playing and as far as I can remember, it’s really the only thing that I was better than average at. I played one year in high school but unfortunately my need for money to pay for things like a car, the prom, senior pictures, etc. superseded my need to participate in sports so rather than play my last two years, I worked. I mention this because it has always been one of my main regrets. I wouldn’t realize it until years later but soccer was the only thing that I ever really had any passion for and had I been born in any other country, I truly believe my fate would have been as a professional player.

My work ethic – or lack thereof – had put me in a bad position by the time I was a senior in high school. The year started and it suddenly dawned on me that I would be graduating in less than a year and I had absolutely no plan for the future. Most of my friends already had their immediate futures laid out and were applying to colleges. I had honestly never really considered college. However, a conversation that I’d had with my father a few times during my high school years crept into my mind. It had various versions but usually went something like this:

Him: “You’re going to college.”
Me: “Dad, I don’t really have the grades for college, I’m a C student.”
Him: “Doesn’t matter, you’ll get in somewhere, you’re going to college.”
Me: “I’ll never be able to afford it, it’s too expensive.”
Him: “Let me worry about that, you’re going to college.”
Me: “Well, I don’t really want to go to college.”
Him: “I don’t care, you’re going to college.”

My sister, three years older than me, had gone to work for the local police department out of high school and my brother, a year older than me, had joined the Navy. So in retrospect, it was obvious that I was my father’s last hope of having one of his children go to college. With the aforementioned, reoccurring conversation in my mind, and with no other post high school prospects, I figured I’d better go to college after all. I thought my father would be ecstatic when I told him of my decision but his only reaction was to inquire about how I intended on paying for it. It turned out that he did intend on helping me financially but that he certainly wasn’t going to pay for the whole thing. I would have to come up with some money myself. Had I known this before I probably would have dismissed the notion of going to college as soon as it entered my scattered little mind. However, by this time I had already been accepted to Franklin Pierce College and was starting to feel good about my future as a member of an institution of higher learning.

Well, I was crushed. The only jobs I’d ever had were menial high school type jobs; janitor, video store clerk, stuff like that. Certainly nothing that was going to allow me to afford whatever portion of the cost my father expected me to pay. My mother would have helped in a second if she could have but she was in no financial position to do much. So it was that I made my second major life altering decision that year and decided to join the US Army Reserves to help pay for college. It turned out to be a bad decision in the end but it was not without its good aspects as well, not the least of which was some financial benefits that allowed me to go to college.

(Click HERE for part III)

Monday, April 07, 2008

Has it been 10 years already?

Exactly ten years ago this month I was meeting with an Army recruiter about signing up and getting the hell out of my hometown. I ended up signing on the dotted line and coming to Europe of course, and the day I stepped off the plane at Rhein-Main AFB in Frankfurt, Germany was May 1st, 1998, or as I like to call it; the day my life really started. That means that this May 1st will mark exactly 10 years that I've lived in Europe. This fact, combined with my recent health scare, has me feeling very nostalgic lately. Looking back over the past decade, I just can't believe how much living I've packed into ten short years. And when I think about the events that led to me calling the recruiter and what my life was like before I did so, it just literally blows my mind. It was the smartest decision I ever made and I shudder to think of where I would be today if I had never taken that leap of faith, trusting that there was something better out there for me.

In honor of my impending 10 year anniversary, I've decided to post the first several chapters of the book that I started writing last year so people who read this blog can get a bit of an insight into what my life was like immediately before I joined the Army back in 1998, the events that drove me to consider such a life changing move and how my life changed when I came to Europe ten years ago.

I had chosen for the title of my book "Dancing Lessons From God", a title which will explain itself after the first few chapters. Thus each excerpt I post will be under the heading of "Dancing Lessons From God", followed by the sequence number in case people fall behind and want to catch up. I'll try to post a new excerpt every couple days or so, time permitting. So without further ado, let's start with the introduction...

By Rik Thibodeau

“I’m miserable here and I’m going nowhere…but joining the army?”

I sat at the kitchen counter at my mother’s house and spoke those words rhetorically. She offered no advice – not even her customary “well, maybe it’s something you should pray about” – but rather stood by the stove silently and let me pour out my frustrations. I was trying to make the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life; I was 26 years old, and I was contemplating enlisting in the US Army. I was a college graduate, I had a seemingly good job with my own office, a lot of friends and plenty of reasons to stay right where I was at. So how had I reached this point? It didn’t come about suddenly; looking back it had been building for quite a while although I didn’t realize it at the time. I don’t believe in destiny or any of that kind of crap but the forces that led to my sitting on that stool in my mother’s kitchen trying to figure out what to do were at work for a long time. I would make that difficult decision and it would change my life in ways I could never imagine. To understand and appreciate my journey, you must first know a little bit about me and the life and times I grew up in…

(click HERE for Part II)

RIP Charlton Heston

When celebrities pass away I seldom bat an eye but I was quite taken aback to learn of the passing of Charlton Heston yesterday. Heston was one of the finest actors of the past century. He was a man's man. He was a breath of fresh air in Hollywood. I really wish there were more people like him in movies nowadays but alas, his kind have all but gone the way of the dodo.

RIP and Godspeed Chuck, we'll miss you.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The X Man does it again...

Last night we were watching tv and there was a hot girl on stage singing. I said to the wife "Wow, she's hot!" and the X Man goes "Daddy, are you gonna hit that?".

The wife smacked me and was like "Look what you're teaching him!" but I was laughing so hard I didn't even care.